Pity those with the courage to speak the truth. Take London's mayor Ken Livingstone, for instance. Following the damnable terrorist bombings in his city, Livingstone opined that "80years of Western intervention into predominantly Arab lands" motivated the four suicide bombers. For his remarks, Livingstone (nicknamed "Red Ken" by his critics) was castigated by right-wingers for his alleged membership in the club, "The men who blame Britain."
Livingstone is not alone in his sentiments. Chatham House, the prestigious British think tank, released a report this week entitled "Security, Terrorism and the UK." In the report, Chatham House warned that the UK "is at particular risk" for terrorist attacks because of its allegiance to the U.S. in the war on terror, including the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In response, British foreign secretary Jack Straw accused Chatham House of making "excuses for terrorism."
Does Livingstone really "blame" Britain for the attacks against it? Is Chatham House really concocting "excuses" for terrorism? Quite frankly, no. Both are simply demanding that we look beyond our naive view of what motivates terrorists to attack us. Both understand that by simply dismissing terrorists as irrational madmen, we can never achieve a meaningful security from terrorism. To consider and understand the actual and, arguably, rational motivations of terrorists is not to excuse the murder and mayhem they wreak. Nor is it to play the "blame game." Rather, it is nothing less than the only way to truly defeat terrorism.
As should be clear by now, we cannot simply bomb terrorism into oblivion. For every terrorist we kill, there are ten to take his place. The military and intelligence communities recognize that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda are amorphous and adaptable. If, for example, Osama bin Laden were to ever be killed or captured, Al Qaeda would continue virtually unabated. In fact, as exemplified by the London attacks, terrorist cells are more often influenced by Al Qaeda than directly linked.
As evidenced by Iraq, U.S. military intervention breeds rather than diminishes terrorism. The invasion of Iraq provided propaganda for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, helped their recruitment and fund raising, and created a training ground for terrorists to hone their skills for use abroad. Indeed, Iraq is but the latest example of how U.S. military intervention in foreign countries attracts terrorism and prompts a terrorist response. History reveals that U.S. military intervention and Islamist terrorism enjoy a symbiotic relationship.
The 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran was in protest of America's long-time support of the Shah, including the U.S.-backed overthrow of the democratically elected Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1953. For decades, the U.S. supported the Shah despite his regime's human rights abuses. No surprise, then, that Iranians resented the U.S.
In 1983, the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah twice bombed the U.S. embassy and destroyed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beruit, Lebanon, killing over 300 people. The attacks were in retaliation for the U.S. military presence in Lebanon and for U.S. military support of the Lebanese Christian government against Muslim militias. In 1993, Somali tribesmen, trained by Osama bin Laden, conducted ambushes of U.S. peacekeeping forces, resulting in 18 dead U.S. Rangers and U.S. withdrawal from Somalia. As with the attacks of 9/11, bin Laden's stated motivation for attacking U.S. targets in Somalia was the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia and U.S. support for Israel.
The first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 was intended as punishment for U.S. policies in the Middle East, particularly its support of Israel. In 1995 and 1996, Muslim militants car bombed U.S. military complexes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in an effort to topple the Saudi monarchy and drive the "infidel" U.S. out of Saudi Arabia. In 1998, more than 200 people were killed in simultaneous car bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as part of bin Laden's and Al Qaeda's opposition to U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia and U.S. support for Israel.
In each of the above instances, U.S. military intervention and presence in Arab or Muslim nations resulted in a terrorist response. In each case, the intent of the terrorist attacks was to punish the U.S. for its military interventions and to drive it out of Arab and Muslim lands. While the means employed were appalling and inexcusable, the reasons for the attacks were entirely rational - to eliminate a threat to the region. Just as the U.S. created and supported state-sponsored terrorism throughout Latin America in the 1980s in order to stop the spread of communism, terrorists seek to halt the global spread of American militarism, particularly in the Muslim world.
Are the terrorists justified in their attacks? Irrefutably, no. They are no more justified than the U.S. was in its support of terror campaigns in Latin America or East Timor. However, by intelligently considering why terrorists attack us, rather than merely writing them off as a bunch of fanatical lunatics, we can begin to ask better questions than the naive "Why us?" as we work to secure ourselves from terrorism.
Understanding terrorists' motives, we can ask whether our interventionist and frequently violent foreign policy makes us safer or more vulnerable. We can also ask whether now would be a good time to learn from our history.
Ken Sanders is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. Visit his weblog at: www.politicsofdissent.blogspot.com/.
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